UK retail sales fall for fifth consecutive month

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Retail sales in Great Britain fell unexpectedly for the fifth month running in September, marking the worst-ever slump for high street shops and online sales since modern records began in 1996 though food stores and departmental stores saw a marginal rise.

As per latest figures from  Office for National Statistics (ONS), retail sales dipped by 0.2 per cent in September, after an upwardly revised fall of 0.6 per cent in August, despite the removal of most coronavirus restrictions across the UK.

Confounding expectations for a boom in consumer spending fueled by billions of pounds in household savings built up during lockdown, retail sales volumes have fallen in each month since April.

The latest figures come as fears mount about the strength of the economy, with shortages of workers and goods and rising inflation dragging down growth and contributing to a squeeze on household finances.

The slump in September was said to be driven by  monthly fall in spending in household goods stores selling furniture and lighting. Sales volumes also fell for chemists, toy stores and sports equipment stores.

However, clothing and department stores – among the hardest hit retailers in the pandemic – reported an increase in monthly sales volumes. Food shops also recorded a modest increase in sales.

Reflecting panic buying towards the end of the month, fuel sales rose by 2.9 per cent to exceed pre-pandemic levels for the first time as consumers scrambled to fill up their vehicles.

In fact, analysts said that consumers spending their weekends queuing for petrol or staying at home to avoid trips out in the car could have contributed to the sales slump in September.

However, spending is anticipated to recover in October as consumers begin their Christmas shopping early to avoid disappointment after some retailers warned that the supply chain crisis could hit the availability of some toys and gifts.